The Damage the Sun Does to Your Skin

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In South Florida, there isn’t a shortage of sunny days. Just about every day’s a beach day. But you need to be cognizant of just what the sun’s doing to your skin while you’re out there soaking up its rays. 

Because at Miami Plastic Surgery® we’re constantly seeing patients seeking to address the changes wrought by the sun on their skin, let’s spend this last blog before summer to detail just why you need to protect your skin from the sun. 

The Coppertone Girl is right there with the Marlboro Man 

If you’re over 45 or 50, odds are you can remember ads featuring the Coppertone Girl. She was a child who sported a serious tan line and was used to advertise Coppertone suntan products. In those days of the 60s and 70s, sun protection factor (SPF) was not a thing. In fact, the highest SPF in those days came almost by accident and was a 2. 

We all know now that the sun damages our skin, and the Coppertone Girl and her dark tan have gone the way in the advertising world of the Marlboro Man and smoking (the original Marlboro Man from magazine and TV ads actually died from lung cancer). 

Today, dermatologists recommend never going out in the sun without sunscreen of less than 30 SPF. Sun protection factor, by the way, means how long the person could be out in the sun without burning compared to not having any protection. So, SPF 30 means you could be out 30 times longer. 

Some facts on how the sun damages your skin 

Skin cancer

Skin cancer occurs when mutations occur in the DNA of our skin cells. The mutations cause the cells to grow out of control and form a mass of cancer cells. Most of this damage to DNA results from the ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight and tanning beds. 

  • Squamous cell carcinoma occurs in the squamous cells found just below the outer epidermis layer of the skin.
  • Basal cell carcinoma occurs in the basal cells, which are responsible for producing new skin cells. They are located just beneath the squamous cells.
  • Melanoma occurs in the melanocytes, the cells which produce melanin, the pigment that gives our skin its normal color. They are found in the lower epidermis.

Sun exposure is directly attributed to all three of these skin cancers. With basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, it’s thought that accumulating sun exposure and damage eventually leads to the development of these skin cancers. So, the more exposure you’ve had (and continue to have) the more likely you’ll develop these cancers. 

Melanoma is the deadliest of the three skin cancers. It’s thought to be triggered more deeply in the skin, possibly from UVA radiation (the other ultraviolet radiation, the one that doesn’t cause sunburns). There is a definite relation to sunburns, though. Every severe peeling sunburn a person has had doubles the chance that he or she will one day develop a melanoma. 

Aging skin

Beyond skin cancer, the sun ages the skin. The sun’s radiation also causes changes in our collagen, the skin’s structural support protein located in the dermis layer. UV radiation damages structural collagen, leading to photoaging. This allows the skin to develop wrinkles, lines, and areas of volume loss because the underlying collagen has become damaged. It also creates areas of hyperpigmentation, where the sun’s radiation has activated the melanin in the skin, which is the skin’s protection mechanism after sun exposure. While this results in tanning, these cells peel away. Hyperpigmentation areas remain darker permanently. These are freckles, age spots, and the like. 

It’s hard not to get sun here in Miami. But it behooves you to try and protect your skin as much as you can. Of course, when you want to address some of that sun damage, you’ll want to give us a call at Miami Plastic Surgery® at 305.595.2969. We have numerous treatments and procedures to help you manage those areas where the sun has had its way with your skin cells.

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